Old Town Hall spat reignites over £40k hand out

HOR 090309 Old Town Hall. photo by derek martin
HOR 090309 Old Town Hall. photo by derek martin

AN ONGOING spat over the ‘unfair’ grant allocation which saw Horsham Town Hall miss out on a huge cash injection continues to spark anger from the Blue Flash Music Trust.

Questions were raised when a Freedom of Information (FOI) request made by the Blue Flash Music Trust to Horsham District Council (HDC) was rejected.

The trust probed the council - among other things - for paperwork relating to an ‘unfair allocation process’ after Dial Post Village Hall accepted a £40,000 grant.

But the council dismissed the request, saying the FOI contained information that was ‘repeated’ and ‘vexatious’.

Sarah Gill, complaints and information officer at HDC, said in the refusal: “Under the FOI Act the council has the right to refuse an applicant information held under certain circumstances.

“In this case the council considers that section 14 of the FOI Act applies and that your request for all of the above information is vexatious.

“Therefore I confirm that the council does not intend to provide the information requested.

“Experience showed it was very likely to lead to further correspondence, requests and complaints. Given the wider context and history, the request was harassing, likely to impose a significant burden, and obsessive.

“I believe that the current request is part of a pattern of behaviour and an ongoing campaign to pressure the council to overturn a decision that you are unhappy about.”

In response to the refusal Robert Mayfield, of the Blue Flash Music Trust, said: “We wish Dial Post every success and do not begrudge them the grant as we believe the facility will be a great potential boost to the Shipley Arts Festival and other arts events in the District.

“However, we do have a concern that other halls did not apparently get a look in for applying for a slice of the £47,000 available and there was seemingly no fair allocation process.

“We understand that the grant of £40,000 was made to Dial Post by a single cabinet member and that there is currently further doubt about the existence of any supporting paperwork.

“It would also seem very unfair that whilst Dial Post receives fundraising assistance from the council, people are not permitted by the HDC cabinet to self-finance their own community proposal benefiting the district in the Old Town Hall. After all, the Old Town Hall is effectively the town’s village hall.

“We would also like to resolve why the HMDW Architects assistance for a community solution was effectively curtailed by the council in 2007. This appeared to cut across HDC policy at the time is possibly out of keeping with the terms of the HMDW contract and their Invitation To Tender.

“We cannot understand why the council would want to deny us this information. The High Court ruled that we had a legitimate interest in the Old Town Hall and our standing in this matter was also acknowledged in a letter to the council from the District Auditor.”

Robert Nye (Con), leader of HDC, said: “The council paid this grant following the receipt of copy paid invoices from Dial Post Village Hall Association in 2009.

“These copies have now been archived as the external audit for that year has been completed and signed off by the Audit Commission.

“The cabinet member acted completely within his powers when approving this grant and it was the last in a long line of such grants which have been provided to village halls over the last 20 plus years.

“In purchasing the Drill Hall, the council also invested in a valuable community asset in the town area.’’